Intro to Happiness Exercises

Reader Contribution by Ellen Sandbeck
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Once upon a time (in 2004) there was a poor writer (and by this I mean that she was financially embarrassed, not that she was incompetent at her trade) who was working on a Very Large Book Project that wasn’t progressing as scheduled. This writer was a very slow and painstaking writer, who dotted all her i’s, and crossed all her t’s, and she had just missed a deadline for the very first time in her entire life, which made her nervous and unhappy. She feared that her publisher would decide that she was not competent after all, and would demand that she return her advance money, and consequently, she and her husband, Prince Charming, and their two lovely children and two adorable dogs would end up living in a cardboard box by the side of the railroad tracks, where they would have nothing to eat but the grain that spilled out of the railroad cars (though the dogs would probably augment their own diet with mice, for they were excellent mousers).         

One day, when the writer had become so very distraught that she was unable to work, because her legs refused to carry her to within arm’s reach of her computer, she realized that Something Needed to Be Done. She knew that the Something needed to be very simple, and require very little thought or energy, because Being Blue was quite exhausting. So the writer clenched her teeth and her fists, marched over to the computer, unclenched her fists, and began searching online for simple, easy techniques that she could use to elevate her mood and enable her to get back to work, finish her manuscript, and thus avoid having to send a full year’s earnings back to New York from whence the money had come.

And lo and behold, it turned out that many researchers at many fine universities all across this great nation had been studying the emotional states of many valiant volunteers, and had already made many interesting observations on this very topic. Soon the writer found herself bouncing vigorously on a large exercise ball and tugging hard at a stretchy rubber exercise band she wedged under the exercise ball, all while smiling maniacally around a pen stuck between her teeth. (This interesting exercise was based on three different studies, published by, respectively:  D. Casasanto and K. Dijkstra, Cognition, March 2010, “Motor Action and Emotional Memory,” R. Soussignan, Emotion, March 2002, “Duchenne smile, emotional experience, and autonomic reactivity: a test of the facial feedback hypothesis,” and Friedman, R. S., & Forster, J. (2002). “The influence of approach and avoidance motor actions on creative cognition,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

After several minutes of this interesting activity, a sudden wave of giggly euphoria washed over the writer; leaving her feeling as if her brain had been washed clean. At this moment, the writer decided that she wanted to continue the hunt for more Happiness Exercises, and the hunt has continued to this day.

And that, my dear friends and cherished readers, is the story of how I came up with the idea for “Happiness Exercises.”

When my husband, Walt, got home that day, I told him about my experience, and he tried it too, which further elevated my mood, because it is hard not to be amused while a tall, gangly, redheaded man is bouncing vigorously on an exercise ball and pulling on an exercise band, all while grinning maniacally around a pen held between his teeth. If I could have talked him into wearing a small red cowboy hat, I would probably have died laughing right there in the living room.

And so, the research continues. Stay tuned for opportunities to participate!